The Woman At The End Of The World
Septuagenarian Brazilian music icon Elza Soares teams up with the cream of São Paulo’s avant-garde musicians for an album of apocalyptic, experimental samba sujo (‘dirty samba’) that tackles the burning issues of 21st century Brazil: racism, domestic violence, sex and drug addiction.
The Woman at the end of the world is Elza’s 34th studio album and her first to feature previously unrecorded material, exclusively composed for her. Voted ‘Best Album of 2015’ by Rolling Stone Brazil it will now be released worldwide by UK based label Mais Um Discos on June 10
Over a sprawl of distorted guitars, squalling horns, taught strings and electronic shards, samba is savaged by rock ‘n’ roll, free-jazz, noise and other experimental music forms as Elza sings, spits and screams tales of a life in Brazil that is anything but a tropical paradise. A true legend of Brazilian music Elza has an incredible musical oeuvre that stretches back over seven decades mixing samba with jazz, soul, funk, hip hop and electronica, whilst her life-story is a rags-to-riches-to-rags rollercoaster of triumphs and tragedies that has made her a voice for Brazil’s repressed female, black, gay and working class populations.
Born in a Rio de Janeiro favela, Elza was forced by her father into an abusive marriage aged 12. She won a radio talent show at 16, hosted by Brazilian composer Ari Barroso and by the time she was 21 she was already a widow who had given birth to three children, one of who died of malnutrition. Her music career began in the late 1950s as she sung in clubs and hotels – sometimes being forced to perform off stage because of her skin colour.
The ‘60s was a career-defining period with a run of classic albums for Odeon yet in 1966 this black, working-class single mother was vilified by the press for having an affair with world famous Brazilian footballer Garrincha. They were both expelled from Brazil as the military junta took power in ’69, yet returned a few years later. They had a son in 1976 before Garrincha passed from alcoholism in 1983 and then in 1986 their son was tragically killed in a car crash.
Elza then faded into obscurity, before a new album in 1997 saw her named ‘Best Samba Singer’ at the prestigious Prêmio Sharp Awards, with international recognition two years later when she was chosen by BBC World Service to represent Brazil in its Millennium Concerts series. Since then she has toured heavily in Brazil with occasional studio outings: in 2003 she recorded the album ‘Do Coccix ate O Pescoçowith producer Kassin and in 2014 featured on Gilles Peterson’s ‘Brasil Bam, Bam, Bam’.
And so to the latest chapter in the soap opera that is Elza Soares life; her as muse to São Paulo’s hyped samba sujo scene, creating an album that walks a tightrope between post-rock and post-samba, a contemporary classic that speaks of a country in a deep crisis and is a spectacular comeback from a singer repeatedly written off: “I knew this album would be a bold, modern sound” she says. “These songs are tense – they do not allow you to relax”.
“Sex and blackness” was Elza’s reply to producer Guilherme Kastrup when asked what she wanted this album to be about. Kastrup then ditched the original idea to record an album of classic sambas and instead invited ‘wonderful, crazy musicians (Elza)’ Kiko Dinucci (guitar), Rodrigo Campos (cavaquinho), Marcelo Cabral (bass) and Romulo Fróes – from Passo Torto – to write and play new material for her alongside Felipe Roseno (percussion), Celso Yes (artistic director with Romulo) and GuilhermeKastrup, the album’s producer and drummer.
The album opens with ‘Coracão do Mar (Heart of the Sea)’ as Elza recites a poem from celebrated Brazilian modernist poet Oswald de Andrade. Title track ‘Mulher do fim do Mundo’ uses carnival as a metaphor for the apocalypse and according to composer Romulo Froes “translates Elza’s strength and indestructibility”. ‘Maria da Vila Matilde’ was written by Douglas Germano and is his account of the domestic violence his mother experienced at the hands of his father. “A silent woman is the worst thing in the world,” opines Elza. In the lyrics Elza threatens a man with boiling water and an unleashed dog before screaming “you’ll regret raising your hand against me”. Songwriter Kiko Dinucci says ‘Luz Vermelha (Red light)’speaks of ‘a country abused for centuries that still survives’ whilst ‘Pra Fuder (To Fuck)’ is an Afro-punk-samba he wrote for Elza that portrays ‘the feminist libido in its wildest form’. ‘Benedita’ tells the story of the death of a crack-addicted transvestite, a ‘wounded beast’ who ‘keeps a bullet between her tits’ whilst on ‘Firmeza (Alright)’ members of Bixiga 70 bring an Afrobeat vibe.
With The Woman at the end of the world, Elza forces the joy and sadness that personifies samba to confront the dirty truths of modern day São Paulo. She is a true music innovator unafraid to experiment and take challenges, a rare thing for an elder stateswoman of Brazilian music. Kastrup surmises: “Elza is one of Brazil’s greatest singers and an icon for people who believe in an equal and fair society. She is the singer who cries out against racial, gender and sexual discrimination.” “Music is protest“, says Elza. “While there are still black people taking a beating we will have music to make”.